Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Voiceless - Review

Title: Voiceless
AuthorCaroline Wissing
Release Date: March 30, 2012
Format/Page Count: Paperback/240 pages
Publisher: Thistledown Press
PurchasedBlue Heron Books 

Synopsis Annabel Cross, nicknamed Ghost, hasn’t spoken a word since she witnessed Granny’s brutal murder two years earlier. However, at 15, Ghost has found a kind of peace at a foster home on a farm with other unwanted teens, including her closest friend Tully, who has dwarfism. But Graydon Fox arrives and Ghost falls hard for his good looks and intriguing combination of vulnerability and aloofness.

When Ghost’s mother is released from a drug rehab centre, she moves clear across the country to begin a new life—without Ghost. Devastated by her mother’s betrayal, Ghost overlooks Tully and turns to Graydon, meeting him nightly in the hayloft after curfew. One night the stable catches fire and, worried she’ll be blamed, Ghost agrees to run away with Graydon. While they flee along a dark stretch of road, a car pulls up and the driver, Cooper, offers them a ride. Cooper gives Ghost and Graydon refuge in his city apartment, but his offer comes at a price. After she realizes how Cooper expects her to earn her keep, and Graydon’s role in the plot, she has little choice. Rather than remain in the apartment as a sex slave, she must run and risk her life surviving on Ottawa’s streets in winter, mute and alone. (From GOODREADS)
Expectation: I know the author. I met Caroline at Absolute Write. We have since met in person at the Ontario Writers' Conference, on several occasions. My caveat here would be that I am a personal friend of the author, but that in no way biases my review. I had HIGH expectations for Voiceless because, 1) I loved the was unique and 2) I know the high quality of writing that Wissing outputs...having read one of her previous manuscripts.
Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary
Favourite Quote: 'I believe we just wanted to crawl into the children we'd never had the chance to be.'

Voiceless is a gripping story. From the moment the reader is introduced to the non-talking narrator, and the group of foster children in her company, they will be drawn to discover what becomes of this band of misfits. There is, first and foremost, Annabel, our narrator. She is also known as Ghost, a name given to her by her beloved foster mother, Mary. The other children are a sorry cast of unwanteds that includes a hooker (Char), a little person (Tully), a native (Jerome) and a mystery boy who appears at the story’s onset…a mystery boy whom Ghost is drawn to like a moth to a flame. Even his name is exotic—Graydon.

From the beginning, we see an intricate inner world through the eyes of our non-speaking narrator. She is thoughtful, caring…good. She is also lost in a world where her mother chooses drugs and the wild life over her. Ghost reflects on her early childhood with her grandmother…and from these reflections we realize the extent of the trauma she has suffered in her life. But at her foster home with Mary and Bobby, she finds a kind of peace. Her foster mother not only has a heart big enough to shelter the misfit children in her life, but she also extends that shelter to include the neglected and forgotten horses of the world. It is the horses that bring out a passion in Ghost…especially her love for the sway-backed Jett.

From the moment Graydon Fox appears at Noble Spirit Farm, Ghost is intrigued. It is just a matter of time before Graydon zeros in on her—possibly just as intrigued with Ghost’s inability to speak. The reader gets a sense that, as mysterious and bad-boy as Graydon appears, he also has redeeming qualities. He is nice and gentle to Ghost. But there is never a moment where the reader won’t let their guard down. Something will niggle at them throughout the story—a warning not to take their eye off the boy. It’s remarkable how well Wissing weaves this notion into the story. Even when he is at his best with Ghost, there is still that warning. Watch out.

After an ‘accident’ on the farm, Ghost agrees to flee Noble Spirit with Graydon. Things start to unravel from there. As a reader, I so wanted Graydon to redeem himself. As the warning flags became more flagrant, there was still that sense that he really did care for Ghost…that he just didn’t know how to undo what he had already put into motion. Was he a good kid drawn into bad circumstances? I devoured this book in my need to know the outcome. And though it felt near the end that certain loose ends were being bow-tied…it never took away from the story’s flow. I was satisfied from the first word to the last. Ghost and Graydon, and the rest of the sad-sack crew that made up the ensemble of foster kids on Noble Spirit, will haunt you long after you finish reading VOICELESS.

Wissing’s use of language is impeccable. Simply put, she has a beautiful way with words. Combine this with her ability to weave such a unique story of sadness and overcoming and you have an instant classic—Voiceless will be one of those books you just know you’ll want to revisit time and again. The maturity of Wissing’s lyrical prose boosts it beyond its market of YA…to that of literary. But it’s a story with mass appeal. It’s a unique combination when a story can transcend its niche and crossover into multiple categories of interest. I think Voiceless does this. Though written for the young adult audience, it would certainly speak to any reader who picks it up. This is a book you will want to read. I guarantee satisfaction.

Expectation was met and exceeded. Annabel is with me still...what a great female character. Such understated strength! Met & exceeded!

Size: 5

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Short Story Companion Piece to THE NEAR WITCH

If you've been following my reviews, I rated THE NEAR WITCH as my favourite read of 2011. You can read my review here: THE NEAR WITCH by VICTORIA SCHWAB

Disney Hyperion now has a companion piece to THE NEAR WITCH available on their website! Read THE ASH-BORN BOY now!

Read this short story at this link: THE ASH-BORN BOY
(Just click the SNEAK PEEK button!)

I will be posting a review shortly. I'm extremely excited about reading new SCHWAB! (-:

D. Renee Bagby Presents YA First Chapters: Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig

The first chapter of my own YA novel is being featured today on a YA First Chapter blog. You can read the chapter here:

D. Renee Bagby Presents YA First Chapters: Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig: Summer on Fire by Kevin Craig MuseItUp Publishing eBook ISBN: 978-1-926931-97-5 Print ISBN: 978-1-927085-15-8 Zach, Jeff and Arnie p...

Monday, May 14, 2012

We Were Here - Review

Title: We Were Here
AuthorMatt de la Peña
Release Date: October 13, 2009
Format/Page CountKindle ebook/336 pages
Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Purchased: Amazon 

Synopsis The story of one boy and his journey to find himself.

When it happened, Miguel was sent to Juvi. The judge gave him a year in a group home—said he had to write in a journal so some counselor could try to figure out how he thinks. The judge had no idea that he actually did Miguel a favor. Ever since it happened, his mom can’t even look at him in the face. Any home besides his would be a better place to live.

But Miguel didn’t bet on meeting Rondell or Mong or on any of what happened after they broke out. He only thought about Mexico and getting to the border to where he could start over. Forget his mom. Forget his brother. Forget himself.

Life usually doesn’t work out how you think it will, though. And most of the time, running away is the quickest path right back to what you’re running from. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: My expectations for this book were high. I just read Mexican WhiteBoy and thought it was amazing. I love this writer's I was pretty confident I would enjoy We Were Here just as much.

Market/Genre: Young Adult/Contemporary


‘People always think there’s this huge hundred-foot-high barrier that separates doing good from doing bad. But there’s not. There’s nothing. There’s not even a little anthill. You just take one baby step in any direction and you’re already there. You’ve done something awful. And your life is changed forever.’ ~ Matt de la Peña, We Were Here

This is one of the best young adult books I have ever read. Scratch that. This is one of the best books I have ever read.

At the onset of We Were Here, we get acquainted with Miguel, the narrator of the story as he is transferred from juvi to a halfway house. Miguel has a mindset that he has absolutely nothing to lose, and that he will never again have anything to gain. We are aware that he has done a bad thing—a terrible thing—but we are not quite sure what it is. We only know that he never wants to forget the burden of his guilt…that he wants to carry it with him forever and feel the extreme pain of his suffering.

This is the story of three troubled teens. Miguel, Rondell and Mong are a very unlikely trio. Miguel’s first encounter with the other two boys are violent. There is spitting and punching and a painful pinning to the ground. All of these things make the reader think Rondell and Mong will both soon be left in the dust of the story. But they would be wrong. The three eventually devise a plan to escape the halfway house together and make a run for freedom in Mexico.

Once they are out in the wilds of California, and heading for the ocean so they can travel south to Mexico, the story really takes off! Along the way, the reader is treated to a wealth of self-reflection from Miguel’s ongoing journal writing. We discover that he is a compassionate, thoughtful and intelligent young man. And we get to find out the back-stories of each of his traveling companions as Miguel sets off one night by himself to read the boys’ files, which he stole while preparing to leave the halfway house behind him.

It is also Miguel who allows the reader to see the good in the other two boys. Rondell, we are quick to learn, is not a bad kid…but a simple one. He believes in Jesus Christ and puts all his faith into a bible he cannot read but carries around with him all the same. Mong, who appears to be a psychotic hopelessly lost soul, turns out to be an overwhelmingly sad case. Nobody should endure the heartache and soul-breaking that Mong has been through in his young life. When he declares Miguel his best friend, it will baffle both Miguel and the reader…but it is such a pivotal moment in the story. Heartrending.

I love when authors namedrop books. I always have. In We Were Here, Miguel has a penchant for reading. Throughout the course of the story, he spends time with Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The reader cannot help but see Miguel as a modern day Holden, and Rondell as a modern day Lennie. At one point I found myself thinking, ‘Oh please, please, please…mention Camus’s The Stranger. You have to!’ And sure enough, the name was eventually dropped. Miguel’s second travel companion, Mong, is without a doubt Camus’s Meursault! This book is an homage to all three of these wonderful stories, but it is also SO much more than that. It is a story that, in itself, will definitely become a classic.

The potential reader of We Were Here will just have to take my word for it when I say this is one of the best books I have ever read. I don’t want to give away too much of it here. I can only say that it unfolds with a beauty I have not seen in a while. The reader will grow so close to these three boys, they will want to protect them from both themselves and the world around them as they set out on the journey of their lives. The journey they take makes men of boys, and makes each of them realize the wealth they carry inside. Your heart will break and strengthen and break again as you take every step alongside Miguel and his broken friends. And when you hope beyond hope that they do the right thing, they might even hear you.

This was a beautiful story. Be prepared to feel all of the emotions you carry…and some you didn’t know you had. I will be re-reading this every now and again…it’s one of those books you want to hug close to you when you’re finished.

Expectation - I thought Mexican WhiteBoy was a great book. This book...this book! I love it so much. Expectation was annihilated! Matt de la Peña has written the quintessential coming of age book, the quintessential on-the-road book and the quintessential friendship book all in one! It's a must read!

Size: 5 (1/2)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

White Horse - Review

Title: White Horse
Author: Alex Adams

Release Date: April 17, 2012
Format/Page Count: Kindle ebook/320 pages
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Purchased: Amazon 

Synopsis: White Horse is the first book in an absolutely unique debut trilogy—a post-apocalyptic thriller chronicling one woman’s quest to nurture those she holds dear against the backdrop of a shocking, new world.

Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the President of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species.

When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption.

Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are not defined by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices. White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places. (From GOODREADS)

Expectation: I had high hopes for this story. I know Alexia through Absolute Write...and I've heard so much about her novel (Actually series of novels!). I couldn't wait to read it. Sounds like something I would really love. Contemporary, yet dystopian/apocalyptic.

Market/Genre: Apocalyptic/Dystopian/Contemporary - I was comfortable calling this novel a lot of things. I wanted, at times to put it in the Young Adult market...but then I thought,'s New Adult...but then I thought, no it's Adult. I have a strong desire to say it has mass market appeal and crosses all of these markets.


“We’re all just meat puppets with an invisible hand inside us, making us dance and live. When that hand slips off the glove, we collapse and that is the end of everything.” ~ Alex Adams, White Horse

“Am I trying to save someone? Is that what I am? Some kind of wannabe hero? I don’t feel like a hero. I just feel scared.” ~ Alex Adams, White Horse

Zoe is a kickass kind of girl. She doesn’t mess around. At the onset of the story, she is cleaning cages and floors for Pope Pharmaceuticals. This feels slightly beneath her station, as she’s an intelligent independent woman. But then you realize she is slightly disenchanted with things. You might say she’s a bit of a dropout. But she’s just waiting for her moment.

That moment comes when she embarks on a journey at the end of the world. Or perhaps it arrives as portent in the form of an urn mysteriously left in her apartment prior to the world’s unhinging. The reader is certainly obsessively drawn to this urn and the mystery surrounding it! As those who come into contact with said urn come down with violent flu-like symptoms, the reader boards the intense mostly edge-of-the-seat rollercoaster ride that is WHITE HORSE!

What I loved about White Horse – The alternating timelines. We are in the past where the world is alive and vibrant, yet showing cracks at its seams…then we are in the post-apocalyptic after-world where everybody is either dead or transmogrified into something horrific and implausible. Or, if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it), you are like Zoe…immune to the pathogen known as White Horse (called that by an exuberant preacher who saw the pandemic as the first white horse of the apocalypse) that either kills you or whacks out your DNA like some kind of freak side-show Dr. Frankenstein virus. I do love the mythical-like creatures that pop up in this post end-of-world story! Horrors of horrors from a rock-like woman, to wolf-like packs to tail flicking sub-humans. As implausible as they all seem, I am immediately believing in their existence in this new less populated world. I love that we get to go back and forth between the hideous after-world and the mundane normal-world on the brink.

Zoe is one of the best female characters I have read in a long, long time. She is strong—powerful—and good. She holds on to her humanity in the ugliest of situations. I love that she immediately took herself to the therapist’s couch when the urn showed up in her living room...and how she made up the story of it being a dream and not a reality, just so she could get a therapist’s opinion on the mystery.

Zoe falling in love with the therapist was nicely done, too. Dr. Rose soon becomes Nick…a man Zoe can fall for in the pre-apocalyptic world, and run to in the post-apocalyptic world. This thread between the two worlds makes White Horse a romance of sorts. As Zoe runs across the world, hoping against hope that her Nick survived White Horse, she comes into contact with many ‘people’. The most sinister is the indefatigable ‘Swiss’! The Swiss is a man the reader loathes and despises. Oh, do we want to see the death of this heinous man!

I won’t go on any further. I feel as though I am merely gushing again. I loved this über-fantastic, über-frenetic paced train-wreck of humanity. I guarantee you will be amazed by White Horse. That urn that appears in Zoe’s apartment—the moment it made its appearance I thought of that Stephen King gem The Tommyknockers, where Bobbi Anderson trips over the tiniest metal object protruding from the ground and she just has to un-root it. The object becomes a behemoth of trouble, just like Zoe’s urn. Go out to the closest bookstore…or head for an online store—whatever you do, purchase WHITE HORSE today! Buckle in and enjoy the meltdown of humankind!

Note on the trilogy: Although this is book one of a trilogy, the ending of this book will leave you ultimately satisfied. Sure, you will want to read book 2 right away, but you are not left on one of those unforgivable cliffhangers that some series tend to leave you on.

Expectation met and exceeded. I can't wait for book 2 of this 3-book series from Alexia!

Size: 5 1/2